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From Bankruptcy to Dancing? Extended Stay’s Transformational Story



At Extended Stay America Hotels (ESH), creating outstanding customer experiences is not just a  motto—it’s a way of life. In each staff room in each of the 675 ESH hotels countrywide, walls are covered with acronyms, initiatives, and motivational posters:

  • DANCE: Delight guests; Activate associates; Neutralize costs; Care for community; Expand revenues.
  • GREAT: Greet with a smile; Respond to guests’ requests; Establish a “home away from home”; Anticipate guests needs; Thank by name.
  • Make it Right, It’s the LEAST you can do: Listen, Empathize, Apologize, Solve, Thank.

These are not just empty ideals and promises. On the very same walls are proof that the company lives its philosophy every day. Pinned up, you’ll find positive survey results, glowing customer comments praising staff members, company awards for outstanding service, and even hand-written thank you letters from guests. Yes, thank you letters.

“Oh, the thank you note?” asked Niko, an ESH property manager in Charlotte, NC, when I pointed to a handwritten floral card. “We get those all the time. Just this morning a woman checked out after a six-week stay; she gave each hotel staff member a personalized card.” Niko smiled with pride as he shared this seemingly common experience at ESH.

Visiting the company’s HQ and locations, you would never guess that ESH is emerging from a time of uncertainty, decline, bankruptcy…and only 1½ years ago. Today, the company culture has an air of festivity: from executives to regional managers to frontline employees, everyone is happy, passionate, and focused. It’s a remarkable story of transformation under the leadership of ESH’s rock star executive team, led by Jim Donald, former CEO of Starbucks, and Thomas Seddon, former CEO of the Subway Franchisee Association.                                              images

 How does this executive team inspire all 10,000 employees to DANCE?

 The executives lead by example, communicate daily, and empower their people. For example:

  • Daily Voicemail.Every weekday, Donald sends a voicemail to the entire organization. Incorporating many voices within the company, he often brings in guests—a sales rep or a property manager at a hotel he is visiting—to help deliver the message.
  • Pounding the Pavement. Donald has travelled over 200,000 miles to personally visit 350 of the company’s locations. He meets with the property manager, listens to his or her needs and goals, and helps develop a plan for the property’s success.
  • Get Out of Jail Free Card. The executive team has instilled a “make it right” philosophy. It encourages managers and staff to feel fully empowered and to make things right for guests, even if it means taking a risk. As part of this effort, HQ sent out get out of jail free cards, tangible reminders that if staff members do whatever they can to delight a customer, they cannot be blamed if something goes awry.

Want to learn more? Come to Medallia’s BPF in May to see Jim Donald and Tom Seddon present in person!

Photo credit: Richard Taylor